Conversation: Applying Mathematics to Sociology
March 2021 | Nigeria
Mathematics is broad, but it becomes a very useful tool and very interesting when it is beneficial to society. Often, people inquire about the application of mathematics, its use in the day to day experiences of man, and do not essentially know that arithmetic can be applied to sociology. That, in discussing how societies function and how they co-exist, it can be figured and determined by data representation. Sociologists have continued to apply the principles of mathematics to represent data, to calculate comparisons and to predetermine facts. Mathematical sociology is applied to everyday life.
In this conversation, Aduwo Ayodele (Applied Worldwide Correspondent) inquired from a Lecturer at the Federal University of Technology Akure, Mr. Emmanuel Jesuyon Dansu, as he discussed the phenomenon of Applying Mathematics to Sociology.
Q- It is an honor conversing with you. Can we meet you?
I am Emmanuel Jesuyon Dansu, a Lecturer in the Department of Mathematical Science, Federal University of Technology, Akure, Ondo State, Nigeria. I obtained a PhD degree from Tohoku University, Sendai, Japan in September 2020. I am interested in the mathematical modeling of population dynamics in biological and social systems.
Q- To start with, what is the correlation between sociology and mathematics all about?
As an undergraduate studying Industrial Mathematics, I came across Mathematical Modeling in my third year and it really caught my fancy. Modeling makes Mathematics applicable to all other fields. All a mathematical modeler needs is to understand the idea under consideration and represent it with appropriate mathematical equations and functions. As such, sociological concepts and frameworks can be modeled mathematically.
Q- Using mathematics to make sense of sociology, do you find it interesting?
Absolutely! It is interesting because one can attempt to calibrate group behavior phenomena with a level of success. Social interactions have always interested me and being a lover of mathematics, it is so nice to be able to put the two together.
Q- Can the discipline of sociology as related to mathematics address questions of societal impact?
Definitely, but it will require a lot of synergy among sociologists, mathematicians, statisticians and Data Scientists.
Q- With coming in contact with sociology as a discipline in relation to mathematics, what do you consider as the future of this field?
As research evolves, I see some sort of convergence of knowledge where each concept is related to every other concept. I already see people working on the relationship between mathematics and theology, mathematics and linguistics, mathematics and sports, mathematics and music, and lots more. So, I am sure the romance between sociology and mathematics can only get better.
Q- Is mathematical sociology really unpopular?
From my experience, I see many people getting surprised or drawing blank when I mention mathematical sociology. Then they proceed to ask how on earth sociology and mathematics are related. Based on that, I would say mathematical sociology is not such a common thing.
Q- Mathematical sociology and you, what is the prospect keeping you to succeed?
There are many social and sociological theories that are yet to be fully understood. So, I believe using mathematics as a tool for furthering their demystification will never become irrelevant. I believe I will be able to do my bit in mathematical sociology as much as I need to.
Q- Can mathematics be used to construct social theories?
It may be too audacious for me to say that mathematics can be used to construct social and sociological theories because my job as a modeler is to represent those theories mathematically. However, in the process of working with these models, one may be able to get insights that might lead to new theories.
Q- With devising mathematics into sociology, are students close to having better understanding of topics and contents using mathematical approaches?
Technically, I can say that students of sociology have a better chance to understand their field with the help of mathematics. At least, they have one more tool to help them. I am not oblivious of the fact that many students in the humanities do not seem to have any flair for mathematics. This can really be a challenge indeed but the few who have a leaning towards mathematics will find it useful.
Q- What is Social Network Analysis basically about?
Social Network Analysis (SNA) deals with the evaluation of the interactions that take place in communities, organizations or even on social media platforms. This can be useful for deploying resources, deciding marketing strategies, etc.
Q- Using sociograms, can social vices be minimized?
Since sociograms help us to know the kind of relationships that exist among people, they can definitely help us understand and minimize social vices if they are carefully studied.
Q- Please tell us about your thesis, about its bearing on sociology?
My thesis examined information spread among people as a result of their willingness either to accept or reject a piece of information given that a certain number of other people have embraced the information. This alludes to the possibility of people doing things they would not normally do just because others are doing it. This is as sociological as things get.
Q- What is Granovetter’s threshold model all about?
Granovetter's threshold model is about the idea that a person takes a decision just because a convincing number of individuals had previously taken the decision. For instance, a particular individual may not join a riot, buy a product, patronize a business, and vote for a politician except if a number of people large enough to break their resolve have taken the same course of action.
Q- What does mathematical thinking into sociology aim at?
Generally, mathematical thinking in sociology seeks to establish patterns of interaction among people and quantify them as much as possible. It seems to transform sociology from being an art to a science of sort.
Q- Modeling sociological problems using equations, what does it mean?
It simply means representing sociological concepts using relevant mathematical symbolism. This injects some kind of precision and conciseness into what is otherwise seen as a free flowing art form.
Q- How would you differentiate mathematical sociology from computational sociology?
To my mind, mathematical sociology represents sociological ideas with equations or networks while computational sociology basically deals with crunching data derived from sociological experiments or observations.
Q- How has the sociological community been reacting to accept mathematical sociologists’ testable indications?
Frankly speaking, I have related more with sociological literature than sociologists so far. I sincerely look forward to interfacing with sociologists in the days to come for fruitful cross-fertilization of ideas.
Q- On a wider scope, is mathematical sociology applicable to everyday life?
I guess I can answer in the affirmative because it is established that we all do some mathematical things daily as social animals.
Q – Thank you for joining this conversation Mr. Jesuyon.
Thank you too Applied Worldwide!